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Colt’s vision to maximize every player

Colts general manager Chris Ballard gave a talk to reporters on Friday, explaining how NFL teams can’t build a roster through free agency because “it’s too expensive and doesn’t hold up over time.”

Ballard remains true to his philosophy of building and developing a contender through the NFL draft. He said the war room currently has between 19 and 21 candidates with first-round grades. It will be his eighth draft class, with the goal of drafting the best team possible before putting all his chips in second-year head coach Shane Steichen. Ballard complimented Steichen’s vision of designing an offense to complement a student’s skills. If an impact player is available when the Colts are on the clock, Steichen will figure out how to maximize the rookie’s skillset in his system.

Indianapolis structured the salary cap to retain and support its core players through 2026, around the timeline of franchise quarterback Anthony Richardson’s rookie contract. The Colts reached a three-year extension with a trio of starters this offseason, including receiver Michael Pittman Jr., defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and linebacker Zaire Franklin. Defensive tackle Grover Stewart and nickel Kenny Moore II both entered free agency on the open market but opted out of three-year deals.

There is a challenge in making a real-time executive decision based on several factors. To combine team needs, raw skill, film, scouting performance, medical and mental testing when evaluating a prospect. Last April, Indianapolis found a hidden gem in the third round, drafting receiver Josh Downs with the 79th pick. The North Carolina speedster put together a historic rookie campaign in Indianapolis with 68 receptions for 771 receiving yards, setting the record for most catches in a season by a rookie in franchise history.

“I will say this, I think you’re going to see a lot of offensive players taken early in the first round,” Ballard told reporters at Friday’s news conference. “I’m not saying it’s a weak defensive line-up, but it’s a very strong attacking line-up, especially at the top.”

Ballard suggested the Colts could opt to trade up if war room executives agree there is value in acquiring more picks. The general consensus entering draft week is that the demand for offensive skill players will see one side of the football dominate the top half of the first round. Ballard has a track record of trading during the draft, stating Friday that “the more picks you have, the more likely you are to hit.” Ballard reminded reporters of the 2020 NFL Draft when the Colts moved up in the second round and selected running back Jonathan Taylor with the 41st overall pick.

“If we see one that’s within striking distance that we think we can take, we’ll do it, but it has to work out and you have to have someone willing to make the trade,” Ballard said.